Dutch troops begin to withdraw from Afghanistan

Sunday, August 1, 2010

THE HAGUE - The Netherlands Sunday began the phased withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan, the Dutch foreign ministry in the Hague said, after four years of active operations in the conflict.

Dutch soldiers handed over their Kamp Holland military base in the south of the country, where they had been responsible for the Uruzgan region, to a joint force of US and Australian troops.

According to some reports, the Taliban congratulated the Dutch on their decision.

The decision to withdraw came after a controversial NATO request for the Dutch to continue their mission for 12 months past the originally-agreed date of August 2010.

That caused a political uproar, leading to the collapse of the coalition government in February and an early withdrawal.

According to the foreign ministry, 24 Dutch soldiers have been killed during the 4-year mission, and a further 140 wounded. Around 1,950 soldiers served in Afghanistan.

“The security situation has improved considerably over the past four years,” the ministry added in a statement, saying that there were now 1,600 Afghan police officers serving in Uruzgan province, compared with almost none in 2006.

It said the number of schools had also doubled and local residents had gained access to health services.

The NATO request for more troops was made by Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and precipitated the country’s Social Democrats leaving the coalition government of Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende.

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